In the last week, I listened to an 18-episode podcast, called Cold. It’s about the 2009 disappearance of 38-year-old mother and wife, Susan Powell. I remembered this case. The shifty husband, Josh Powell, putting on an unconvincing act for the media and an implausible alibi of camping in the middle of the night with his two young sons, Charlie and Braden. I also remembered when, in 2012, Josh murdered his sons and took his own life, exploding his rental house in a devastating fire.
Horrible, of course. What I didn’t know was that the salaciousness of this family’s tragedy ran far deeper than I could have ever imagined. Through these well-researched episodes that include audio recordings, interviews with the family, detectives, and the community, we learn how Josh’s dysfunctional family and his perverted father, Steven, helped destroy his son’s marriage with Susan, a devout Latter-Day Saint.
Not only did Steven encourage Josh to eschew and demonize the Mormon faith, but he had a horrifying obsession with Susan herself. He filmed her inappropriately and without her knowledge, wrote about his undying love for her in his journal, stole her undergarments in addition to hoarding her trash in plastic bags. After Josh’s parents divorced and he elected to live with Steven, it’s very clear that he influenced Josh’s perspective on women and only increased his narcissism.
While Susan’s body has never been recovered, to me it’s very clear that Josh was responsible for her disappearance. I believe he murdered her disposed of her body somewhere in Utah. But that was hardly the end of the story. The subsequent investigation and the fact that Josh was never charged is truly shocking.
Josh engages in a custody battle with Susan’s parents, but many that knew Charlie and Braden saw an increase in inappropriate behavior once Susan was gone. Chuck Cox, Susan’s father, talks about how he and his wife had to teach the boys basic principles, such as sharing and taking turns. Josh didn’t care to parent; he just wanted to win custody. The boys had to fend for themselves in his care. Once Josh learned that the Coxes were to maintain custody, he went ballistic.
On February 5, 2012, a social worker brought the boys to Josh’s home for a supervised visit. Josh opened the door to let them in, claiming he had a surprise for them in the house. He then slammed and locked the door in the social worker’s face. She could not get in and called 911, her panic rising as she began to smell gasoline. The house soon exploded into flames. Josh, Charlie (aged 7), and Braden (aged 5) were dead.
Even then, the podcast doesn’t end. There are four more episodes. The host Dave Crawley walks us through the aftermath, the subsequent investigation, the case becoming cold, and what happened to the remaining Powell and Cox family members. Most importantly, he concludes the podcast with a call to action for victims, particularly women, of domestic abuse and their loved ones. The warning signs were there for Susan. She felt she had no way out of her declining marriage and would make statements such as, “If something happens to me, look at Josh.” No one should be in that position. We have to listen to our gut instincts.
This is a sordid, fascinating story, but this podcast still manages to impart an important message. For those reasons, I highly recommend listening.
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